This past weekend was my second attempt at the San Diego Towerthon. And it was a mixed bag. Fun in a weird sort of way, but also funny in a weird way.
Last year, I’d gone in to this race with no expectations. I’d never done an endurance stair climb before, so I really didn’t know what to expect. And I think I did pretty well. I climbed the staircase from 1 to 25 seventeen times. That was enough times that I was able to later make the staircase chart from memory. And, more importantly, I calculated later that if I’d done it eighteen times, it would have been a vertical mile. More on that later.
So for the past year, I’ve been thinking about the vertical mile as a goal and a challenge. And I even did it once at one of the Aon building practice sessions in downtown L.A. last March. So I went into this race with a goal of doing the vertical mile.
A few days before the race, I got an email from P.J. saying that they’d had to change the course for the race, and that we were only going to be going up to 24 this time. The organizers had already said that they were going to make up some sort of special award for all climbers who went a mile or more, so they wanted to know how many times up would make a mile with the shorter climb. I ran the numbers and came up with 18.6, which meant climbing the staircase 19 times. I worked out a pace for that, and I set an alarm on my watch for 6:20, since that was how fast I’d have to do each lap, including the elevator ride down and the run from the lobby to the staircase entrance outside.
So race day dawned, and when I was in line and about to go, my friend George told me that he’d measured the steps in the staircase, and they were a bit taller than I’d figured in my calculations. They were something like 7 3/8 inches instead of 7. At that point it was too late to redo the calculations, so I just started up the stairs. I think that’s why I look a bit haunted in the starting line picture.
All the way up the first time, I kept thinking about how the taller steps threw all my careful calculations off by about 4%. Which is enough to notice over a 2-hour climb. Still, I made it up on target, and I managed to keep on pace for about 5 or 6 climbs. But then I started to fall of behind. Expectations are a terrible thing. Once I knew I was off my planned pace, I kind of lost the will to go on. And my lap times for the middle set of climbs were kind of slow. I managed to perk up a bit towards the end, but by that time, I’d lost count of how many times I’d been up the stairs. You can see in the pictures the wear that going up that staircase over and over caused.
At the end, I got to the top and then immediately flopped face-down on the floor. The top of the climb was an unfinished floor, and we discovered that our sweat-soaked shirts made sort of prints on the concrete. These were dubbed ’sweat angels’. After a suitable recovery time, we got together for a team picture before heading down for the awards.
When the posted the results, I found I’d climbed the staircase 17 times. Not bad, but not a mile. And when I had a few minutes, I recalculated, and found that with the taller steps, 18 times up made a mile on this year’s course. So I really didn’t need to aim for 19, and if I’d aimed for 18, I might have made it.
The really funny bit came later, when I was on the train leaving downtown to go back to my father’s place. I wondered just how close my 17 climbs last year were to a mile, since the steps were taller than I’d thought. So here’s the calculation:
Climb from 1 to 25 -> 506 steps
506 x 7.35 = 3,719 inches = 310 feet
310 feet x 17 climbs = 5,270 feet
This is just short of a mile. But on every lap, there were four steps we had to go up when we got out of the lobby. So doing 17 laps meant climbing those four steps 16 times, and they were about 6.5 inches. So those steps added:
16 x 4 x 6.5 = 416 inches = 35 feet
5,270 + 35 > 5,280
So the funny thing is that I actually did the vertical mile last year. But because I’d thought that I hadn’t, it became a year-long obsession. I talked about it, and other climbers took it on as a goal as well. And the whole thing took on a life of its own. Which I found tremendously funny.
Overall, even though I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped, I really can’t complain. It was a good experience, and good fun.
Full results are here: http://www.geminitiming.com/posts/san-diego-towerthon-4/